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Life with a 1974 Lancia Fulvia 3 1.3S: driving this classic back from Italy

I?D been pining after a classic, underpowered Italian coup? For a while.

But prices for decent UK cars were steadily rising out of reach, so I looked towards the Continent for more choice and better value, both being more important to me than right-hand drive. Yet even across the sea, prices for good Lancia Beta Volumexes (yes, some do exist), Alfa Romeo 105/115-series coupés and even tidy Alfa Romeo Alfasud Sprints were becoming unreasonable. But then an extremely handsome, pale blue Lancia Fulvia Coupé appeared in the classifieds, listed for sale not far from Naples. It was pictured glowing in the bright South Italian sunlight, framed by green grass and mountains – an exotic scene guaranteed to hypnotise a northern European enduring another watery September.

This model became a 1974 three 1.3S ? So one of the later automobiles ? And priced a bit over finances, however nonetheless very reasonably for what gave the impression of a smart example. I?D constantly fancied a Fulvia Coup? For its looks, engineering, interesting V4 engine and racing pedigree (it turned into rallying?S very last the front-wheel-force global-beater), but had assumed good ones had been too rare and too pricey. Desperate to be proved incorrect, I made touch with the seller, a younger-ish guy named Cesare, via an Italian-speaking friend. Cesare didn?T talk English, and my single time period of Italian at college didn?T cover the fine details of buying a 2d-hand car, so we proceeded with the aid of textual content message in Italian with Google Translate doing the heavy lifting.

Cesare sent snaps of documents old and new, including certification by Automotoclub Storico Italiano, the arbiter of classic car provenance in Italy. With some questions answered and a video tour of the car, a price was agreed subject to the Fulvia being as described and me taking a test drive. A few days later, I was on a plane.

I once travelled on a rattling Cross Country train to buy a filthy Ford Puma from what might once have been a slaughterhouse, just outside Blackburn. This trip wasn’t like that. A patchy flight schedule between home in Edinburgh and Naples left a couple of spare days before seeing the car, but the Amalfi Coast makes for an agreeable waiting room. Sights were seen, pizza and seafood eaten and la dolce vita generally lived. If the beauty and style of the locals hadn’t made me feel like a gammy crow crashing a fancy pigeon parade, I might just have stayed.

The big day dawned ? Or at least attempted to, as a Biblical thunderstorm descended first component and stayed all day. This wasn?T the near-invisible British rain that stealthily saturates you over several minutes, but the big, grape-like Mediterranean rain that instantly soaks and then leaves you heat but mildly concussed.

We pressed inland regardless, driving about an hour east of Salerno. The rain kept coming, and so did the red flags. Cesare had already specified that he would accept cash only, and now rather than giving us an address, he wanted to meet on a motorway sliproad from where we’d drive in convoy to meet the Fulvia. With little choice, we agreed. Soon, an old green Volkswagen Bora waiting by the Autostrada pulled out and led us up hills and along lanes until we reached a secluded farmhouse.

We needn’t have worried – Cesare greeted us warmly, as did his father and an Italian-American relative of theirs, Gerry, who had been drafted in for translation duties. Gerry was a Chicagoan with a vintage accent and a sturdy yet cheery disposition that could have seen him deposited here as the Allies swept north in 1944.

The Fulvia was there, gleaming in the open garage between a Ferrari 208 GT4 and a Fiat Nuova 500 L, while a well-used Fiat Panda 4x4 Sisley and an Alfa Romeo Giulia Nuova Super project car sat across the courtyard. Evidently, these people were kindred spirits.

The Lancia?S Agnano Blue paintwork had been replenished 12 years in advance and turned into conserving up very well, while the cream leather-based upholstery was tidy in the the front and pristine in the again. The hazy tool glasses might be clean sufficient to update, while the wood-effect dashboard and a few headliner tidying could be extra concerned. All commonplace enough issues in vintage Fulvias, although, and none extreme.

We scoured the bodywork for rust or upkeep ? Outside, internal and below ? And found no trace of either. The repaint had been exacting, even as the underseal turned into historical but appeared to have executed its task. Despite the persevering with downpour, a test pressure threw up no surprises, both, so with smiles all-spherical, arms had been shaken. The formalities may want to wait, even though: we have been ushered internal, in which Cesare?S mum had laid on food, espresso and domestic-made limoncello, and we ate, drank and talked vehicles some greater. It changed into an occasion more than a transaction ? If handiest all used vehicle purchases have been so.

Quite sensibly, transfers of automobile ownership in Italy take location at privately run neighborhood organizations for the equivalent of the DVLA. Various fees have been charged in the system, prompting Gerry to momentarily channel Jackie Mason: ?They tax the whole thing over right here, you already know ? Whats up, you wanna make love, they tax you!? Perhaps a proof at final for Italy?S full-size tax gap.

The agent counted my coins earlier than passing it on, a receipt become issued and new ownership documents raised. Cesare?S sister nipped in to say good-bye to the auto and his father made me promise to appearance after it. That an awful lot I should do.

The authentic plan had been to pressure the Fulvia domestic, however time constraints and logistical hurdles had made that untenable. As success might have it, a huge car-transportation business enterprise became placed close by, and we agreed a charge to move the auto to IJmuiden port near Amsterdam, where I might accumulate it in some weeks. We left the Fulvia?S keys with the transporters, Gerry stated his farewells then optimistically strode off and were given into the wrong vehicle, and after a couple of sodden snaps with me next to the Lancia, Cesare gave it a final, loving tap and all become achieved.

After what felt like 3 weeks? Well worth of Christmas Eves, the transporter driving force referred to as to mention he?D be delivering the automobile the next day. Following a closing-minute flight from Glasgow to Amsterdam (the newness of booking a one-manner price ticket endures as one of the exquisite joys of purchasing a used car), I observed myself in the exceptionally plush Hotel Augusta in IJmuiden, yards from the DFDS ferry terminal for Newcastle. The transporter sooner or later arrived at 2am, and within the thick, darkish haar, my little Fulvia was unloaded and parked up beneath the motel?S sparkling canopy. It turned into all very surreal ? Had Carlos the Jackal regarded from the shadows, he wouldn?T have seemed out of region.

The Newcastle ferry became fully booked for three days, but an early-morning name to DFDS blessedly became up a closing-minute cancellation at the 478-cabin Princess Seaways for that afternoon. I then spent some time with the motel?S owners, who?D taken an hobby in the Lancia and showed me their own eclectic series of vehicles: a Nuova 500, Triumph TR4, Toyota FJ Cruiser, US-spec Volvo 244 GL saloon and an evocative, coachbuilt Beardmore taxi.

The Fulvia become running best, but a temperamental lock left my passport stranded inside the boot because the columns of vehicles slid past me and onto the ferry. There?S a knack, of path, as I necessarily located, however I?D have favored that discovery to were made more fast and in much less fraught situations.

The ferry turned into a revelation to me ? A big, cushty inn in which you lay your head down in one country and wake up in every other, and your car comes, too. Obvious, perhaps, but experiencing inclusive of clean hyperlink among northern Britain and continental Europe has caused the plotting of future trips already.

The morning arrival in Newcastle added sunshine and a risk, at final, to power the Fulvia nicely. First, to Tynemouth for breakfast by using the sea, then inland, across the border at Carter Bar and a stop-off in my place of birth of Hawick at the way to Edinburgh. It?S a wonderful direction in even the dreariest of motors, so I?D been looking forward to it.

The Fulvia behaved impeccably. I knew of the intense engineering in these cars and the mechanical quality that made them so expensive when new – the car duly delivered and I was hammering along the back roads in no time. The gearing is very short and you’re in fifth before you know it, but with 1298cc making just 90.7 metric horsepower at 6000rpm, I’ve no complaints about that. The 13deg V4 is loud and perhaps not running as sweetly as it should, but the timing and twin Solex carburettors will be seen to in due course. In the meantime, throttle response is still good and drivetrain vibration limited. The long-throw, dogleg gearbox is sweet and the all-round disc brakes almost shockingly effective for such an old car.

Once on the move, the unassisted steering is fingertip-light; you guide the Fulvia through corners with the same delicacy and restraint as you would a period Lotus Elan. Unsurprisingly, the 84lb ft being channelled to the front wheels doesn’t trouble steering purity, either. The 15in Melber alloys look great, but their tyres have some age-related cracks and their extra width means the arches rub during compressions with two aboard, so I might revert to the painted steel 14-inches that also came as part of the deal and put some new rubber on them. As far as I pushed the elderly tyres, though, cornering grip was good. And there’s a happy combination of body control and ride comfort on offer, despite the incongruously old-hat leaf springs and live rear axle – the car weighs just 970kg unladen, after all.

I dare say a chastised Renault Kangoo could be driven almost as quickly, but the rally-bred Fulvia was designed for these helter-skelter back roads and comes alive here. It’s willing where many modern cars would be either passive or reluctant, and its noise, controls and all-round mechanical transparency fully occupy your senses where others would isolate them.

I reached home in Edinburgh in fading light, and after a continent's well worth of grime turned into eliminated with a wash, the Fulvia turned into again to its stylish first-class earlier than being put away. The likes of thee and me are fortunate to locate pleasure in vehicles, and I be counted myself even luckier to have discovered this one. I desire the possession proves as a good deal a laugh as the purchase.

Next up is a trip to former Fulvia rallyist and renowned Lancia-whisperer Neil Jeffrey at Car Craft in Broxburn to prepare the car for its first MOT and for a tutorial in tuning a single-head, narrow-angle V4.

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